Jagdeep Dhankhar. Image Source: IANS News

Kolkata, Feb 27 : Ahead of the civic polls, West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Thursday asked the State Election Commission to ensure a level playing field, initiate steps to "dispel fears and impressions" that it is an "extension" of the government and prevent the "widespread violence" seen during the 2018 Panchayat polls.

Dhankhar had summoned State Election Commissioner Saurabh Kumar Das to Raj Bhavan for an update to ensure "peaceful, orderly and fair polls" in the upcoming local elections.

A Raj Bhavan statement said the Governor asked Das to flag the issue to police and administrative authorities that any "partisan approach would invite exemplary consequences".

"Adverting to the inputs he has received, Dhankhar called upon State Election Commissioner Saurabh Kumar Das to ensure level playing field to all as it is fundamental and non-negotiable," it said.

"The State Election Commission must take all steps to dispel fears and impressions that it is an extension of the Government and must engage in dialogue with all stake holders," the statement quoted Dhankhar as saying.

Das informed the Governor that the commission will meet the district magistrates on March 4 and by second week of March, the Grievance Management System would be in place.

Dhankhar emphasised that State Election Commission was a constitutional body and obligated to ensure free and fair elections where voters exercise their valuable right of vote freely.

"Dhankhar indicated to Das that all steps need to be taken to ensure there was no violence and kind of scenario noticed in the Panchayat elections held in May 2018. The polls then were reportedly hit with widespread violence," the statement said.

The Governor requested the Election Commissioner to update him on the steps taken to ensure free and fair polls and underlined that constitutionally it has all the powers that Election Commission of India has under the Constitution's Article 324.

"This power (under Article 243K of the Constitution) invests it with the authority and competence to ensure that one party doesn't have an undue advantage over another just because it is in power," he said.

Dhankhar also told Das to bear in mind that the SEC "like the Election Commission of India is the de facto boss of the bureaucracy" and may in required situations take recourse even to transferring officials in the interest of ensuring fair and peaceful polls, the statement said.

"A prior engagement with the administrative and police heads concerned would be wholesome and productive," the Governor told Das.

"He expressed the hope that timely precautionary steps by the State Election Commissioner would prevent unwholesome scenario and instil confidence in the electorate," the statement added.

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